I've followed Michelle's career with delight, and am thrilled with the success of her latest book, a young adult thriller called DON'T TURN AROUND.
Michelle's adult mysteries, THE TUNNELS, BONEYARD, THE GATEKEEPER, and KIDNAP AND RANSOM, have been described as utterly gripping, addictively readable thrillers, by the Chicago Tribune. Her latest book, the first in her PERSEF0NE young adult trilogy, has received starred reviews from both Kirkus and VOYA, and the first installment, DON'T TURN AROUND, was selected for the Autumn 2012 Kids IndieNext list.
Sixteen-year-old Noa has been a victim of the system ever since her parents died. Now living off the grid and trusting no one, she uses her computer-hacking skills to stay safely anonymous and alone. But when she wakes up on a table in an empty warehouse with an IV in her arm and no memory of how she got there, Noa starts to wish she had someone on her side.
Enter Peter Gregory. A rich kid and the leader of a hacker alliance, Peter needs people with Noa's talents on his team. Especially after a shady corporation threatens his life. But what Noa and Peter don't realize is that Noa holds the key to a terrible secret, and there are those who'd stop at nothing to silence her for good.
When I saw Michelle at Bouchercon a few weeks ago we did a lot of catching up, but here are the questions I didn't get to ask about her new venture into YA fiction:
DEBS: What inspired you to write a young adult book? Was it something you’d always wanted to do?
MICHELLE GAGNON: One of the reasons I switched to YA for this series was that a friend pointed out that I’ve had a strong teen character in nearly all of my adult thrillers, and he suggested I try writing an entire thriller from that point of view. And it was really liberating-I ended up writing the rough draft in a little over eight weeks, research and all. It hadn’t occurred to me to tackle YA before, but now I’m really happy that I did. I am continuing to write “adult” thrillers too, though (that always sounds dirty to me now).
DEBS: How was it different from writing an adult thriller? Was it easier or harder?
MICHELLE: This one in particular was easier, but I’m not sure if that was because it was YA. Sometimes the books write themselves, and sometimes it’s like wrestling a giant, vicious alligator into submission. I just finished the second book in the trilogy, and that one was a bit more of a struggle.
DEBS: Are there certain constraints in writing for a younger audience?
MICHELLE: I did hit a few stumbling blocks, because in my other series the main characters were an FBI agent and security consultant, adults with resources and training at their disposal, and the authority to back up their actions. Teenagers don’t have those advantages. I also initially wrote a few scenes from the POV of an adult character, which is apparently a big no-no; I revised them to show the teen’s perspective. And I toned down the language a bit during the editing process. I don’t generally incorporate a lot of sex scenes into my work, so that wasn’t an issue. And in terms of the content, it’s just as dark as anything I’ve written previously.
DEBS: What kind of response do you get from your readers?
MICHELLE: It’s been so thrilling to receive fan mail from teens- they’re so lovely and enthusiastic! Plus, they take pictures at events and immediately tweet them, which took some getting used to…
DEBS: I’ve always felt that good YA fiction is simply good fiction, and can contain themes and ideas as meaningful as any in adult fiction. It can not only turn teenagers and young adults into lifelong readers, but shape their perception of the world. Did you—and do you—feel a sense of responsibility to your readers?
MICHELLE: For me, the pivotal theme in this story is the fact that mainly former foster kids are being victimized. I did a considerable amount of research on the US foster care system (and its many failures), and was alarmed by much of what I read. Consequently, I’ve affiliated with an amazing non-profit called Rising Tides (http://rising-tides.org/), that provides financial assistance for education and other life needs to teens who are ageing out of the system, and have no other resources at their disposal. I feel really passionate about that. Without help, a disproportionate percentage of former foster kids end up homeless, in prison, or worse. They really need a support network, and instead, they’re basically pushed out the door once they turn eighteen. I find that unconscionable. Rising Tides is a crowdfunding organization that helps allocate funds to specific teens to help them escape the cycle.
DEBS: I have to mention the super trailer on your website! Did you have any input on that?
MICHELLE: I didn’t, but isn’t it amazing? I was completely blown away by it. I can’t sing HarperTeen’s praises enough, they’ve really championed this book.
DEBS: In 2013, Michelle's YA dystopian thriller STRANGELETS will be published by SoHo TEEN Press. She splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles. You can find her at www.michellegagnon.com, or on Facebook and Twitter. Michelle will be giving away a copy of DON'T TURN AROUND to a commenter, so be sure to drop in and say "hi." And don't forget to watch the trailer!
(Oh, and our lucky winner of Anna Lee Huber's THE ANATOMIST'S WIFE is Reine! Reine, you can email Anna at info at annaleehuber dot com with your mailing address.)